FiiO BTR3 – Bluetooth Mobility Takes Another Leap Forward

INTRODUCTION

I’m now a big fan of Bluetooth. Recently offerings such as the FiiO Q5 and iFi iDSD have shown us how good Bluetooth quality can be. More companies are experimenting using Bluetooth for transmission, and then sending the signal to a higher quality DAC for final decoding, thereby not losing fidelity to a lesser quality all in one Bluetooth (including DAC on chip) solution. And the overall quality of smaller SoC solutions has also been improving – making ultra-portable Bluetooth solutions very viable.

There is a real freedom in not being tethered. It won’t be for everyone, or for all occasions, but if you’re entertaining, have a good stereo system, and can have a variety of people share their music (from their smart-phones) to a good quality Bluetooth enabled amp and DAC, it can be a really great experience. Very recently I did this with the IMS X8 and a good pair of passive speakers at my brother’s 50th birthday. We had a ball.

For me the real gains with Bluetooth are portable though – when I’m out and about, and I simply want to lose the wires. FiiO brought us the BTR1 recently, a small Bluetooth receiver which basically turned your wired headphones into a wireless Bluetooth head-set. I really liked the unit, so when FiiO then followed it with a slightly more expensive upgrade in the BTR3 ($70 vs $45), I was curious to check on any improvements. Read on and lets see what the differences are.

ABOUT FIIO

FiiO was first founded in 2007. Their first offerings were some extremely low cost portable amplifiers – which were sometimes critiqued by some seasoned audio enthusiasts as being low budget “toys”. But FiiO has spent a lot of time with their on-line communities, and continued to listen to their potential buyers, adopt their ideas, and grow their product range. They debuted their first DAP (the X3) in 2013, and despite some early hiccups with developing the UI, have worked with their customer base to continually develop the firmware for a better user experience. The X3 was followed by the X5, X1, X7 and most of these DAPs are now into their 2nd or even 3rd generations.

They’ve also developed new cables, desktop and portable amplifiers, DACs, ear-buds and earphones. FiiO’s products have followed a very simple formula since 2007 – affordable, stylish, well built, functional, measuring well, and most importantly sounding good.

DISCLAIMER

The BTR3 that I’m reviewing today was provided to me freely as a review sample. FiiO have asked me to keep it for my personal use, or for follow up comparisons, and I thank them for this. The retail price at time of review is USD 70.

PREAMBLE

If you haven’t read any of my reviews, I suggest starting here, as it will give you an insight into my known preferences and bias.

For the purposes of this review – I used the BTR3 predominantly with my iPhone but also some of my other Blue-tooth enabled DAPs. I tested with a selection of different earphones – generally trying to stay under FiiO’s supported 100 ohm limit.

In the time I have spent with the BTR3, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (burn-in). This is a purely subjective review – my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt – especially if it does not match your own experience.

THE PACKAGE

The BTR3 arrived in a 91 x 151 x 28mm retail “box and lid”. It is white with a picture of the BTR3 on the front. Opening the box reveals the BTR3 nestled under foam protection layer. Beside this is a compartment holding the accessories, and a underneath this an envelope with the other accessories. The total accessory package includes:

  

  • The BTR3 Blue-tooth DAC/AMP
  • Short USB-C charging/data cable
  • Lanyard
  • Warranty card
  • Operational manual

THE TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

ModelFiiO BTR3
Approx PriceUSD 70.00
Device TypeBlue-tooth DAC and Amp
Dimensions58 x 25 x 10.4mm
Weight26g
Battery Capacity300 mAh
Battery Performance / RechargeUp to 11 hours use, 1.5 hours recharge
DAC and AmplifierAK4376A
Output Impedance0.3 Ω32Ω loaded
Output Power 16 ohm33mw
Output Power 32 ohm25mw
SNR>120dB (A-weighted)
THD+N<0.003% (1 kHz LHDC)
Crosstalk>75 dB
Max power output2 Vp-p and >22mA
Bluetooth ChipCSR8675
Supported CodecsSBC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, LDAC and LHDC

MEASUREMENTS

Normally I’d measure amps using loop-back from my sound card. With the BTR3 I can do this but it also takes the DAC into account, which can affect the linearity (with filters), and for some reason it never plays nicely on my measurement system. So for this section I’m going to to use FiiO’s published measurements. The good news is that they’ve never been known to hide any imperfections, and always seem to post the graphs “warts and all”. The three graphs they’ve posted are with different codecs in play – aptX HD, LHDC, and LDAC.

  

All show an appreciatively very linear frequency curve from 20Hz to 20 kHz. The LHDC and LDAC curves show an approx 1dB rolloff between 10-20Hz, but in real world terms, that is inaudible. The aptX HD high frequency curve rolls off above 16 kHz, but again it is pretty much inaudible to the vast majority of people. LDAC and LHDC high frequency is very linear.

BUILD

External

The BTR3 is pretty small – just 25mm wide, 58mm tall, and less than 11mm deep (slightly larger than the BTR1). It has a black anodised aluminium alloy outer chassis, with a 2.5D toughened glass front panel. Why the glass panel, and what is 2.5D? The glass panel is so that FiiO can display the current codec being used (via coloured LEDs), and the 2.5D means it has a very narrow bezel to make it quite form fitting. The chassis has nicely rounded corners and really does look quite stylish. On the back of the unit is a sturdy and wide clip which runs for the length of the body. This is aluminium, spring loaded, and requires medium force to engage or disengage. It is ideal for clipping into a collar, belt, or even a handbag strap (for the ladies). During all my testing it has remained in place really well (mostly used around the neck-band of a shirt or sweatshirt.
At the bottom is a single 3.5mm headphone-out as well as the USB-C charging and data port. Both socket are quite firm with no excessive play. With the unit facing you, on the right is (from top to bottom):

  

  • On/Off switch
  • Microphone port
  • Multi-function button (play/pause, Bluetooth pairing mode, activate Siri, answer or end call)
  • Volume up/down rocker – doubles as previous/next track by holding

There is probably only one thing I don’t find intuitive with the controls, and that is the previous / next (holding the volume rocker) controls runs opposite to what we would normall expect.  Up or + is previous track, and down or – is for next track.  You get used to it pretty quickly – but worth mentioning.

  

The front face has a central FiiO text/logo displayed through the glass, which slowly flashes a different colour depending on the Bluetooth codec being utilised:

  • SBC = Blue light
  • AAC = Cyan light
  • LDAC/DAC = White light
  • LHDC = Green light
  • aptX = Purple light
  • aptX HD = Yellow light

  

This is really nice for knowing the right codec is being used. I was able to test all of the above (except for LHDC) by using a combination of the FiiO M7 and my iPhone SE.

Internal

Internally the BTR3 uses the well regarded AK4376 DAC and integrated amplifier which is capable of a maximum decoding capability of up to 32bit/384kHz, an output power of up to 40mW, and an impressive SNR or 116dB with THD at -106dB. This is the same chip which was used in the BTR1.

The Bluetooth chip used is the CR8675 which supports all of the current Bluetooth audio codecs (see the bulleted list above). Another feature of the CR8675 (besides the 24 bit transmission support) is a very stable signal strength particularly in situations with a lot of interference.

Output impedance from the headphone out is an impressive 0.3 ohms.

FEATURES

As a Headset:

I’ve tried the BTR3 with both my iPhone SE, and also FiiO’s own X5iii, X7ii and M7. In all cases, the BTR3 was extremely easy to pair (put into pairing mode on both devices, and manually pair). The BTR3 remembers the last device paired, and automatically connects with that device when re-engaged. Interaction with the SE is pretty seamless, with the iPhone displaying battery life. One thing I wasn’t overly enthused on with the BTR1 was the integrated volume control with the iPhone (it essentially became a stepped volume control). The BTR3 has an independent volume control – which means you essentially have 2 different volume controls for greater versatility in setting an ideal volume.

The microphone is quite clean and clear, and picks up voice pretty well. I’ve used it a couple of times (business calls) with some of VE’s higher end earbuds, and its been great turning a higher end earbud into a head-set. I did have one person saying that my voice was a little distant, and so it is very much a case of ensuring the microphone is positioned to best effect.

Pairing two devices:

You can pair two devices at the same time, and then switch between the two. Double-clicking the power button is supposed to allow switching, but so far that hasn’t worked for me. What is nice is that you can have two paired devices though – and just pause one and immediately start the other.

Battery Life:

FiiO advertises approximately 11 hours life with around a 1.5 hour charging time, and these claims seem to be reasonably accurate. With my testing (2 runs) I got 10.75 and 11.25 hours continuous use (using 18 ohm IEMs) and with a 5V 2.1a charger, full charge was indeed easily achieved in under 2 hours.

Bluetooth Performance:

I upgraded the Bluetooth module when FiiO announced the firmware upgrade. Although I found it reasonably easy, I do believe FiiO could make things a little easier for those who struggle technically – but if you can follow a recipe, then its pretty step-by-step.

FiiO advertises up to 30m range (in an open area), and in direct line of site (no obstacles), I can get 20m with my iPhone before starting to glitch (but its a best case scenario for me). Start introducing obstacles, and the range can start to cut down. 10M through walls is pretty good though. With the iPhone SE, the connection was very solid for the most part, and I’m very comfortable using my iPhone SE + BTR3 for walking.
Switching to FiiO’s M7 with LDAC provided similar performance although not quite as stable (could be the M7). With the devices in close proximity though, I experienced pretty solid connections using the source device in a pocket, and the BTR3 connected to my shirt collar. Again perfect for mobility.

For personal use (ie walking with source device within a meter), you’re not going to get any issues (or at least I haven’t). The one improvement I noticed was the stability compared to the original BTR1 – especially in high traffic areas. The BTR3 hardly ever glitches, and even gave great performance at our local Church (cleaning in the weekend). The Church has a wireless system which can wreak havoc with Bluetooth connections, but the BTR3 and iPhone pairing was brilliant.

Stand-alone DAC

The other new feature on the BTR3 is the ability to be used as a DAC (utilising the USB-C connector). After the Bluetooth upgrade, use is brilliant, the DAC is just recognised instantly, and is driver-less. Performance is capped at 16/48, but for playback that’s all you really need. I have a very old eeePC which is slow but still runs pretty well. It also has quite noisy integrated audio. Plug in the BTR3, allow the generic driver to load, and switch to Foobar. The result – clean and clear audio, and a very nice pairing with the U10 or HD630VB! The beauty of this solution is that it is so tiny and for someone on the go a lot, it gives portability and versatility in a single package!

Power

The power output on the BTR3 is definitely on the weak side, and FiiO got the guideline of up to 100 ohm generally correct (sensitivity will play its part of course). For full sized headphones I tried the HDV630B and my MS Pros and especially with the Senns, I came away pretty impressed with what I heard. No signs of any issues with driver control at all.

 

Switching to IEMs, and I started with one of my current “regulars” for personal listening – the 64 Audio U10 (18 ohm, 115 dB/mW sensitivity). The BTR3 handled the U10 easily for power, and its low output impedance was great with this multi-driver IEM which can be sensitive to higher impedances (which will change frequency). Next was the HifiMan RE2000 (60 ohm and 103 dB/mW). This was definitely harder to drive, but again no issues for the BTR3, and side by side switching with the AM3A and X7ii revealed no audible deficiencies with power.

The last test was with the notoriously harder to drive MEE P1 (50 ohm 96 dB/mW), and this required more volume but again confirmed the BTR3’s versatility. Again, the pairing was very good and the additional volume demands well within the BTR3’s power band. For purely portable use – the BTR3 is a great solution.

SOUND

Preface

I’m going to preface this section with a little critique I received a while ago, and my answer to it – so that you can understand why I don’t comment on some things, and why I do comment on others. I was told my review on another amp was poor because I didn’t include sections on bass, mid-range, treble, sound-stage, imaging etc – yet referred to an amp as warm, full, or lean.

Now I can understand the reference to warm / full / lean – as they are very subjective terms, and whilst I’d like to avoid their use, they are invaluable to convey true meaning. Comparing my NFB-12 to the Aune X1S for example – the Audio-gd does sound richer and warmer. It’s the nature of the DAC which is used.

But I choose not to comment on bass, mids, treble, and most definitely not sound-stage – simply because when we are talking about a DAC/amp – IMO they shouldn’t be discussed. A DACs job is to decode the signal in as linear fashion as possible, and the amp’s job is to amplify the signal with as low distortion as possible. Basically you should be aiming to output as linear signal as possible. If the device is doing its job properly, there is no effect on bass, mids, or treble – except if hardware boost is concerned. And IME an amp does not affect sound-stage (unless there is DSP or cross-feed in play) – that is solely the realm of the transducers and the actual recording.

So we have that out of the way how does the BTR3 perform sonically?

Tonality

I listened and compared it to the E17K (one of the most linear devices I own). Both were volume matched and had my iPhone SE as source. For headphones – I used the HD630VB. In subjective comparison, the BTR3 is subtly different with the E17K having a slightly more vibrant but neutral signature vs the BTR3’s slightly warmer and mellower tonality. The difference is noticeable, but its not night and day (they are pretty close).

Transparency

While there is a slight hint of pleasing warmth to the overall tonality, there is no loss of detail or transparency. It has a way of sounding slightly rich and full without tipping toward a very noticeably warmer tone like the X5iii. It does also have a pretty clean background which for me creates a decent sense or perception of space. Its also a perfect with the HD630VB to add extra bass warmth at the turn of a dial (on the headphones).

Quick Note On Formats

The BTR3 this time supports a lot more formats that the original BTR1. I’m always interested in the debate between formats and was pretty interested in hearing if there was a noticeable difference for myself. I tried AAC from my iPhone, and SBC, aptX, aptX HD and LDAC with the M7. Once I’d volume matched, I couldn’t really tell a difference – with any of them. Even the oft-maligned SBC was pretty transparent. A little research confirmed for me that SBC is basically the equivalent of 320 kbps MP3 – which most of us will recognise as audibly transparent for most music. When you consider most of the listening will also be mobile – then you can see why I have no issues with any of the formats. Even in a quiet setting, I couldn’t tell the difference between SBC and aptX HD. All I can do is relate my own experience – the BTR3 sounds pretty darn good with all of the included codecs.

COMPARISONS

This is a difficult one to make comparisons with because I really don’t have a lot of similar devices. So for this one (like the original BTR1), I’ll make the assumption that I’m looking for an iPhone device to pair with, and that I’m on a pretty limited budget. The only thing necessary is to be able to bypass the iPhone’s headphone-out. For the comparisons, I’ve used the BTR1, the K1 and also the Kozoy Takt Pro (much higher price point).

  

FiiO BTR3 vs FiiO BTR1

Price

USD 70 vs USD 45

Build

Both are extremely well built from quality metal materials but the BTR3 seems better finished with a more seamless build. The BTR1 uses the older micro-USB socket where the BTR3 uses the newer USB-C.

Accessories

Both are somewhat minimal but comparable. Charge cable and lanyard – not much more required really.

Features

Both are Bluetooth devices, and both have controls on the device. BTR1 does have the added DSP, but unless you’re invested in this type of tech, it can degrade the sound rather than enhance it in some cases. The BTR3 has independent volume control which works wonderfully with an iPhone. The BTR3 also can be used as a stand-alone DAC, and performs very well in this regard. The BTR1 (V1) does not have this capability. Both have the ability to be used as head-sets (microphones included in the unit).

Format Support

The BTR1 is limited to aptX, SBC and AAC. The BTR3 supports LHDC, LDAC, aptXHD, aptX Low Latency, aptX, SBC and AAC.

Battery Life

The BTR1 supports 8 hours continuous use with a 2 hour recharge. The BTR3 extends this to 11 hours use and only a 1.5 hour recharge.

Bluetooth Performance

The BTR3 is definitely a step ahead with much longer range, and also better stability overall.

Sound Quality Overall

There seems to be very little (if any) overall sound difference. Both deliver crystal clear audio with a slight touch of warmth as far as tonality goes. Noise floor on the BTR3 is a little lower, so those with sensitive IEMs may find a positive difference with the BTR3 over the BTR1.

My Preference

Form factor is very similar and both are ideal for portable use. The added features (DAC, independent volume control, and multiple format supports) are a lot better with the BTR3 and the overall stability of the Bluetooth is fantastic. For me – the BTR3 justifies the added cost.

  

FiiO BTR3 vs FiiO K1

Price

USD 70 vs USD 40

Build

Both are extremely well built from quality metal materials but the BTR3 again seems better finished with a more seamless build. The K1 uses the older micro-USB socket where the BTR3 uses the newer USB-C. The K1 is about 1/2 the size but is very limited on features.

Accessories

Both are somewhat minimal but comparable. Both have a charge/data cable and the K1 comes with a clip vs the BTR3 in-built.

Features

The K1 is just a DAC and set amplifier – no tone controls, no Bluetooth. The BTR3 adds full Bluetooth capability, volume controls and the ability to be used as a head-set.

Format Support

The K1 is limited to 24/96 and is driver-less as a DAC. The BTR3 supports all the Bluetooth codecs but is limited to 16/48 in DAC mode.

Battery Life

The BTR3 supports 11 hours use and only a 1.5 hour recharge. The K1 is dependent on the power supply of the source (no battery).

Bluetooth Performance

The K1 has no Bluetooth. The BTR3 Bluetooth support is very good (distance and stability).

Sound Quality Overall

Again there seems to be very little (if any) overall sound difference. Both deliver crystal clear audio with a slight touch of warmth as far as tonality goes. Both are a step up from the on-board sound card of my older eeePC.

My Preference

The K1 is very limited in its usability by today’s standards. It can be used with a phone – but compared to the far better feature set of the BTR3, I can’t really recommend the K1.

FiiO BTR3 vs Cozoy Takt Pro

Price

USD 70 vs USD 299

Build

Both are extremely well built from quality metal materials. The Takt Pro uses the older micro-USB socket where the BTR3 uses the newer USB-C. The Takt Pro is almost 1/4 the size but has no Bluetooth.

Accessories

The BTR3 is more minimal with the only cable being the charging/DAC cable. The Takt Pro includes multiple cables for wired connections to phones/tablets/computers.

Features

The BTR3 has Bluetooth, independent volume control, and can be used as a head-set (the Takt Pro has none of these features). The Takt Pro has integrated volume and playback controls, and is quite well supported for multiple hi-res playback modes (sample/bit depth) as a DAC. The Takt Pro is also able to output almost twice the overall power of the BTR3.

Format Support

The The BTR3 supports all the Bluetooth codecs but is limited to 16/48 in DAC mode. The Takt Pro can support up to 32/384 as a DAC and DSD up to DSD256.

Battery Life

The BTR3 supports 11 hours use and only a 1.5 hour recharge. The Takt Pro is dependent on the power supply of the source (no battery).  The Takt Pro can be quite draining on an iPhone battery.

Bluetooth Performance

The Takt Pro has no Bluetooth. The BTR3 Bluetooth support is very good (distance and stability).

Sound Quality Overall

This is the one area where the Takt Pro does come out on top. Both sound absolutely excellent when paired with my iPhone, but the Takt Pro does add a slight lift in overall depth and quality. It is not a massive difference, and tonally the two are very close. The Takt Pro has a tendency to sound ever so slightly more vibrant, where the BTR3 sounds just a little more laid back. These impressions were from a very quite room – and I would doubt my ability to tell any difference in a portable environment though.

My Preference

Disregarding price, and acknowledging that my use for the BTR3 is primarily portable, I would select FiiO’s device simply because the Bluetooth is really that good, and it doesn’t tend to flatten my iPhone’s battery with a rapid power draw down. The Takt Pro really is an excellent overall device – but in this case the BTR3 is cheaper and has a better feature set for my portable needs.

VALUE

This one is very easy. At $70 the BTR3 is brilliantly priced, and really lives up to its promise. Bluetooth range and stability is very good, and considering most people will have the source and BTR3 on their person or in close range, the stability has been stellar for me so far. Add in the independent volume control, really long battery life and a decent head-set mode, and the BTR3 really represents fantastic value.

FIIO BTR3 SUMMARY

Like the earlier BTR1, the BTR3 has been a continued revelation to me on the development of Bluetooth audio in recent years. Being able to turn any pair of portable IEMs / earbuds / and even easier to drive headphones into a functional head-set is a fantastic start point, and the addition of the use as a DAC, and particularly the independent volume control just keeps adding to overall value.

Build quality is excellent, and the form factor has obviously had a lot of thought put into it. The clip is solid and really does stay put. Battery life is improved on the original BTR1 (the 11 hours on the BTR3 is fantastic), and the ease of use with the controls is genuinely well designed.

Power is a little on the weak side – but it is perfectly capable of driving most IEMs and portable head-phones. Sonically this little device sounds very good – and will rival the output of most smart-phones for overall sound quality (or at least be on par).

Overall (as the table below shows), the BTR3 gets an absolute endorsement from me. Once again FiiO shows us that a device does not have to be expensive to sound good. Thanks once again to Lily and the team for providing me the review sample.

Probably the best endorsement I can give is that I do use this device daily.

FiiO BTR3My ScoreOut ofWeightingWeighted Score
Accessories8102.50%0.2
Build & Design101010.00%1
Device Controls10107.50%0.75
Output Power6107.50%0.45
Portability10107.50%0.75
Overall Sound Quality81035.00%2.8
Head-set Quality8105.00%0.4
Bluetooth Quality9107.50%0.675
Battery Life10107.50%0.75
Value101010.00%1
Total89100100.00%8.775

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